Trip to Denver (SPIE meeting) with weekend in Las Vegas

07/16/99

I was travelling alone. My wife left a day ahead of time to meet her aunt and uncle in Kentucky. They had just married in Japan and this trip was to celebrate. Since they hadn’t had any real ceremony in Japan for their wedding, they wanted to have a ceremony in America. Sumie and I were helping with the arrangments since Sumie’s uncle doesn’t speak much English and his wife doesn’t speak any at all.

I arrived at the Airport in Indy at about 8:00 and checked one suitcase at the gate, keeping one carry-on bag. When I make short trips, I generally like to restrict myself to a single carry-on, but for trips on the order of a week or more, that’s not really practical. The airplane was scheduled to leave at 8:55 so I had plenty of time. I flew on United Airlines and was a lot happier on this flight than on my previous trip to Vegas on Northwest. The seats were just as claustrophobic but at least they reclined to a more comfortable position.

There was a short layover in Denver where I switched airplanes to go on into Vegas. This flight was delayed slightly (about 15 minutes). It was a short flight and so I arrived in Vegas. After picking up my checked suitcase miraculously, I have never had a lost suitcase) I took a shuttle to the hotel. We were staying at Luxor. However, to my dismay, I found that when my wife had made the reservations she had neglected to put my name on the reservation—everything is in her Uncle’s name. That meant that since I was the first one to arrive in Vegas, I basically had to sit waiting for the others to arrive. This was not a happy-making experience. The situation was compounded since there are two (at least) check-in areas. I was waiting in one and my wife’s party checked in at the other. Fortunately, I had the cell phone turned on and she called me from the room to tell me which room she’s in. Everything was okay from there.

Once we’d all joined up, my wife’s aunt and uncle wanted to go to the place where they were going to have their wedding ceremony, "The Little White Chapel" to be fitted for Gown and Tuxedo. We took a cab there. I have never seen anyplace so tacky in my life, from the awning over the driveway painted with cherubim to the heart motif in the white painted wrought iron fencing. However, the aunt & uncle seemed to like it so I made sure that my comments to my wife were made in English with explicit instructions not to translate.

After finalizing the arrangments at the chapel, we returned to the hotel for dinner. We had dinner at the "Pharoes Pheast" buffet. My wife and I had eaten there last year when we were in Vegas for our anniversary and it was as good as I remembered. There was lots of variety of food and everything I had was good. The aunt and uncle idd not like the cheese enchiladas but, being older Japanese, I think they just don’t have a real taste for cheese.

I’d been going on only five hours sleep so I took a short nap after dinner. Then we went for a short walk to look at some of the local sights before the show we were going to see. Excaliber is still bright and gaudy, a tribute to a middle ages that never were and New York New York still has that impressive, and somewhat disconcerting, "skyline."

To cap off the evening, we saw the show Imagine. It was a big production combining dance, acrobatics, and magic. A lot of fun. It was built around a "past, present, future" theme, or at least claimed to be so. The truth is the "theme" was little more than excuse and promise. But the show had a lot of energy and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

7/17/99

After breakfast (also at the Pharaoh’s Pheast buffet) we prepared for the wedding ceremony. The chapel had not gotten any less tacky overnight but the aunt and uncle were happy with it. There was a nice touch in the ceremony with the couple holding individual lit candles and then using the two candles to light twin wicks in a single other candle—kind of a symbol of two becoming one. My own wife and I have been talking about doing a "renewal of vows" ceremony in a couple of years since we only had the barest of no-frills civil ceremonies for our own wedding and might like to do something more elaborate sometime where we can have friends and family present. After the ceremony we returned to Luxor to change into more comfortable and casual clothes and then went out to do some sightseeing.

We started by walking across to Excaliber. While we were there we had lunch at the Roudtable Buffet. There was a bit of confusion. In the other buffets I’d eaten at in Vegas, they seat you and then you get your food. At Excaliber, you get your first pass of food and then they seat you.

From Excaliber we went to New York New York and on across the street to the MGM Grand. In MGM Grand Sumie and the aunt & uncle stopped to do some shopping for gifts to take back home, choosing some overpriced chocolates with the MGM Grand logo on the box. Well, to each his own. From there, we took the monorail to Bally’s.

At Bally’s there was a bit of discussion. Sumie’s aunt & uncle had decided they were tired and wanted to return to their room. Sumie and I continued sightseeing. She had wanted to see Bellagio since she had been to the real Bellagio in Italy. My major take on Bellagio, aside from the ubiquitous casinos, was the number of very expensive, upscale stores. These places are way out of my price range at the moment and Sumie was willing to accept that at the moment. From there we took the tram to Monte Carlo and worked our way back to Luxor.

We took a short break and then went down to the pool. The water was comfortable, but the dry wind was very cold when we got out.

After another break, we went to dinner. This time we did not do buffet. This was going to be our last meal together in Vegas so we wanted to go somewhere nice. We went to the Sacred Sea Room, a seafood restaurant here in Luxor. It was pricey—appetizers ran $10-$15 while entrees ran $25 and up. The service was mediocre and we ended up waiting 15 minutes for a straw for my wife’s iced tea. The food was good, but I didn’t care for the vegetable dish. I absolutely do not like sweet peppers and they were prominently featured. Oh well, different people like different things. The stuffed prawns, however, were very, very good. I had better clam chowder in in San Fransisco, but that’s actually saying something since the restaurant I had clam chowder at in San Francisco is was the best I’d ever eaten.

7/18/99

This section is harder for me to write since several key events are of more personal nature.

This day started with the depressing event of my wife returning to Kentucky with her aunt and uncle, leaving me to spend time (until 9:00 PM, when my own plane would leave for Denver) by myself. I saw them off into the taxi that would take them to the airport and returned to the room to rest a bit more. After a bit, I went down to breakfast at the buffet again and sat reading and eating slowly. At this point I was basically just killing time until my own flight. On reflection, I think it was just that Vegas wasn’t any fun by myself.

After breakfast I went up to the attractions level and bought the "all attractions" packet of tickets. I had enough time to kill and this would help me get through it.

First was the IMAX 3D movie "T-Rex, Back to the Cretaceous." I’d already seen this at the IMAX theater in Indy and if I hadn’t been killing time I would probably have taken a pass. The visuals were good, but I didn’t care much for the story. Next was The Mysteries of Egypt, which featured Omar Shariff (sp?) telling tales to a young girl about ancient Egypt, their religion, and their life working around the theme of the girl wanting to know about the "curse" on Tutankhamun’s tomb. It was an interesting movie.

After The two movies, I broke for lunch—buffet again—then returned to take the "Search for the Obelisk" ride. That was a mistake. The ride was a motion simulator, where they bounce you around in time to the images on a wraparound screen. Taking this on a freshly filled stomach is not advised. The ride was okay, although there were flaws that tended to spoil it a bit—mainly issues of scale, things that aren’t the size they should be. The "story" wasn’t engaging enough for me to really suspend disbelief.

Next on the list was Tutankhamun’s tomb & Museum. This was, basically, a replica of the tomb showing the stuff that was in it plus some displays of replicas of Egyptian artifacts. There was one genuine Egyptian artifact, andd that was a piece of limestone from one of the pyramids. I’m afraid that a piece of rock doesn’t interest me much, wherever it came from. I would have preferred some genuine arts and crafts, but the Egyptian government is, understandably, tightfisted about giving those out. I suspect that hotels, however expensive, are just not high on the list to get genuine antiquities.

I took a short break then and sat in the food court nursing a diet coke and reading (more time killing), I went to the last of the attractions that I’d bought—the short movie "The Greatest Pharaohs". This basically gave short bits of stuff about certain historical Pharaohs including Narmer, Djoser, Rameses the Great, and Cleopatra (the last with any real power within Egypt).

That brought me to about 4:00. I still had another 3 ˝ hours before I would catch the shuttle to the airport. I just went to the downstairs lobby (by the North entrance) and sat to read.

While I was reading, I suddenly heard a young woman speaking Japanese behind me. The thought leaped into my head that it was Sumie and I turned to look around. Of course it wasn’t her. She was in Kentucky by then. My instinctive thought had been nothing more than wishful thinking on my part. I really don’t handle being separated from my wife well. As soon as logic reasserted itself and I realized that Sumie couldn’t be there, I also remembered, and really felt, that I would not see her again until late Thursday night. Then I got depressed. I forced my attention back to the book and was eventually able to drive the depression away. What makes things worse is that I can’t even talk to her on the phone until she gets home Tuesday.

Well, eventually it got to be time to take the shuttle back to the airport. Once there, I checked in my bag and picked up my e-ticket (love that e-ticket). Before entering the section to the tram which led to the concourse where I would board my plane, I had to go through security. Not wanting to fuss with stuff like keys and credit cards in my pockets (which set off detectors), I stopped at a bench to empty my pockets into the zipper pouch on my bag. Through security, onto the tram, and off to the "D" concourse then a pause to double-check the gate. What a shock to find that the ticket was gone! And, so, a backtrack along my path and I found the ticket—right on the bench where I had emptied my pockets. I was luckier than I deserved for that. Anyway back through security and on. The fligght was uneventful and I got checked into my hotel in Denver.

07/20/99

This one’s short.

I arrived in Denver at just shy of midnight and, once given the time it took to get from the gate to the terminal and pick up my bag it was too late to take the shuttle to the hotel. I took a cab. I had a reservation at the Doubletree Inn on Quebec street.

After four days of operating on five hours of sleep a night, I needed rest desperately and I used this day to get it. Except for breakfast and lunch, both eaten in the hotel restaurant, I stayed in my room and either napped or read.

7/20/99

After a day of rest I felt much better. I was still short of breath all the time, I don’t know if that’s because of the altitude (although Denver’s not that high) or something else.

At a second look, the hotel has its good and not so good points. The room is nicely comfortable; I’d guess about the same size as the room in the Luxor. The bathroom isn’t as spacious, but it has a heat lamp, which I consider quite nice when I stay somewhere that has it. The little café off the lobby is also a mix. The service is indifferent at best. The sausages and bacon in the breakfast buffet are overcooked. But the lunch "deli" is wonderful. They have a chef out at a counter who makes the sandwiches fresh, slicing the meat and piling gobs of it on the choice of several breads. The deli comes with soup and salad bar and the tomato bisque was quite good.

I had been dreading learning my way around a bus system in an unfamiliar town on a short schedule, particularly since my shortness of breath simply would not go away and I did a credible imitation of a steam engine if I did even little walking around. Finding out that there was an Enterprise rental agency right here in the lobby of this hotel made up my mind. I’m now driving a dark jade Chevy Malibu. And since they’d been out of the next size down as I’d originally asked for, they gave me a discount and split the cost.

After renting the car, I drove out to a bookstore that was recommended to me. I will add my own recommendation to that given to me: the Tattered Cover Book Store is very, very nice. It’s a four story tall building with more books than all three of the big bookstores I know in Indy (two Borders and one Barnes & Nobel). After that, I drove down to the SPIE convention to get registered, make sure I can find where my own presentation will be, and most importantly scout out the parking.

After that I returned to the hotel for dinner and holed up again. I’m afraid I’m just not up to going out much, much less exploring. That damn breathing.

 7/21/99

I spent most of today at the conference. In fact, this was the day I gave my presentation. I managed to get a laugh with my opening line:
"According to the program, it's supposed to be my boss, Don Chernoff, giving this presentation today. However, it turns out there are two meetings back to back, one here in Denver and one in Hawaii. Naturally, my boss went to Hawaii and I got Denver."

I had lunch at a place called "Maggianos" just off the 16th street mall. It is an Italian restaurant. The portions are huge. All unknowing, I ordered parmesan garlic bread and roast chicken with herbs. The plate of bread that came out would have been a good sized meal by itself and the menu didn't say that the roast chicken was the whole chicken. Needless to say, there were takeout boxes in my future. Not bad at all for a total cost of about $15, including drinks.

Still having the breathing problems, although I'm beginning to wonder if it's the altitude or something else. Maybe I picked up some kind of bug and it's only coincidence that it hit when I arrived at Denver.

Dinner was leftovers from lunch, quite good even cold.

7/22/99

Breakfast was more of the leftovers from yesterday's lunch. Still having the trouble breathing and, by now, I'm quite certain it's not the altitude. I should have adapted well enough by now so long as I didn't do anything strenuous, but I haven't. Be that as it may.

The conference is more amusing than informative at the moment. It seems that half of the people presenting papers are not here, including all the people from Chinese organizations. In fact, come to think of it, I think all the no-shows are from Chinese organizations. I'm not sure what's going on, but there it is. I met with Mark Worthington today. He's a moderately big name in the CD and DVD field. He wants to do a paper jointly with us here at ASM.

Today, I used the luncheon ticket to have lunch at the conference. There wasn't a whole lot of choice of food--burritos, chili, and pop really--but it was good and there was enough.

The afternoon session had just as many no-shows as the morning session.

Today is the last day of the trip. I had a final dinner at the hotel (a sandwich they called a "Monte Cristo"--basically a ham, turkey, and cheese sandwich with French Toast for bread) then waited for the shuttle to the airport. The roof of the main terminal appears, so far as I can be, to be a huge tent! As we were approaching it, I thought that it was designed to look like a tent, but when I got inside I saw seams and a hint of grain that suggests that it really is fabric. Weird.

As it happened, I had plenty of time before the plane left so I sat and read while waiting. (You can pretty much assume that if I'm not otherwise occupied--and eating alone does not constitute "otherwise occupied"--that I'm reading.)

We flew on a 737. The flight was a little choppy at first, so the beverage service was delayed. It was a two hour flight back to Indy. I was a little disappointed to get off the plane and find my wife not in the gate area. However, she was waiting just outside of security. She had brought one of our dogs! We had a very happy reunion. She told me that she brought the dog because she was nervous about being out alone so late at night (flight got in just after midnight) but I suspect she knew that I missed the dogs almost as much as I missed her and gave at least one of the dogs an early reunion.

And so, home and bed and glad of it.

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